I’ve been putting off writing this journal entry for a little while, but it can’t be avoided forever.
It’s now almost two weeks since my beloved mother passed away, but those two weeks have done little to ease the pain of losing her.
I sometimes feel I’m gaining control of my emotions, but that feeling comes and goes, only to be replaced by a deep despair. One minute I’m resigned to the fact that I’ll never be able to sit and talk with her again...the next minute I’m unable to accept that very same fact.
I’m living in a surreal world where she simultaneously exists and doesn’t exist.
To be honest, we thought we were about to lose her last year. At the beginning of October 2019 she was rushed into hospital in Wakefield with a suspected heart attack. I received a phone call from my nephew Julian to say that he’d called an ambulance and that she had been taken to the accident and emergency department at Pinderfields hospital. Emi and I drove over there from York as quickly as possible.
We found Mum in the A+E department, connected to various monitors but in a stable state. Like myself, she hated the idea of being in hospital and seemed more anxious about her surroundings than the condition of her heart.
Later she was moved onto a ward and we found her sitting, dressed, in a chair at the side of her bed. She seemed to have recovered fairly well and would be discharged in a day or two. We brought her some magazines, fruit and biscuits, and over the next day felt more positive about the outcome.
Then, on our next visit to the ward, she was nowhere to be seen and her bed had a different patient in it. After enquiring where Mum was we were taken to a private room where Mum lay, semi-conscious in a bed, hooked up to monitors and drips. We were told that she had a severe chest infection, probably pneumonia, a urine infection, and several other problems.
The next days, weeks and even months became a nightmare, a rollercoaster of slight improvements followed by further dramatic deteriation. Most of the time she seemed unconscious, or semi-conscious, and when awake was suffering from delerium and confusion. It was at this point that we feared that she had reached the end of her life.
We travelled to Wakefield every day to sit at her bedside for a few hours, willing her to get well. It dragged on mercilessly with no apparent improvement.
Then, one day, we were told that she had been moved downstairs to a different ward where we found her in yet another private room, but slightly more conscious and a little bit improved, though still clearly very ill.
The next day she was moved from the private room onto a ward with six beds occupied by other elderly ladies, some of whom were prone to bouts of strange behaviour. Mum was in a bed beside a big picture window with a reasonably pleasant view but, once again, her condition oscillated between poor to deeply worrying.
One of the problems had been that she wasn’t eating and drinking enough, dehydration being a major concern along with low blood pressure. She had been given fluids intravenously but now water on her lungs and heart were an issue and she needed medication to try and deal with that. It was a difficult balancing act.
Over the next few weeks we made our usual daily trip to Wakefield to spend time with her, sometimes feeling hopeful, sometimes feeling incredibly worried and depressed by it all.
Then one day, she was moved from Pinderfields hospital to a hospital in Dewsbury as the bed at Pinderfields was desperately needed for another patient. Once again, she was placed in a ward with other elderly ladies, some of whom seemed to be suffering from either dementia or other mental confusions. Mum too had her bouts of delerium during this time. It was deeply distressing.
Our daily journey to spend a few hours with her was taking even more time out of the day due to the added milage to get to Dewsbury from York, along with increased traffic congestion at certain times of the day.
Some days we were unable to visit her due to my own essential hospital appointments or when I had to perform my November 9th concert at The Clothworker’s Hall in Leeds. The concert had been planned for some months prior to Mum falling ill and tickets had been sold and some of the audience were travelling from the USA and other countries, so it was impossible to cancel it.
Mum had been hoping to attend the concert but now there was no way this was possible. The last concert of mine that Mum had attended was in 2018, a concert which was held to celebrate my 70th birthday. Though frail, she wanted to make the effort to be there and thoroughly enjoyed herself.
A lovely and touching moment happened at that concert when Mum was helped to walk out of the Clothworker’s Hall by my nephew Julian. The entire audience stood up and applauded her and she waved them all goodbye with a big smile on her face. She was so thrilled and pleased by that spontaneous act of kindness. It’s a memory that will stay with me forever...
After some weeks in the hospital in Dewsbury, at the end of November, Mum was deemed well enough to be moved to a rehabilitation centre on Eastmoor, in Wakefield. The idea was that she would be given help to try and regain some mobility with a view to returning home. Unfortunately, progress in this regard was not forthcoming and she remained bed bound, which in itself created problems with bed sores.
Mum had to spend Christmas and New Year in the rehabilitation centre which robbed her of the traditional Boxing Day visit to our home in York where she would enjoy a festive feast and exchanges of gifts with Emi, Elle and Elliot and myself. Instead we went to visit her at the rehabilitation centre, doing out best to cheer her up but she was clearly depressed about the whole thing.
It soon became apparent that she was not making sufficient progress to warrant being in the rehabilitation unit but neither was she fit to go home so an intermediary stage was put in place for her to receive ‘respite’ care at Earl’s Lodge, a care home literally next door to the rehab centre.
Here she did make a little progress, gradually spending more time sitting in a chair by her bedside and watching television. Her general condition seemed to improve but she desperately wanted to go home. It was decided that a private care company would be employed to call at Mum’s house four times each day to deal with her needs and prepare food, etc. So finally, on the 12th of February, nearly five months after being admitted to hospital, she returned to her own home.
In the more familiar and comforting environment of her home, she seemed to make more progress, the carers coming in everyday to ensure that her needs were taken care of. She gradually regained some mobility, being able to get up from her chair and slowly walk around the room with the aid of a walking frame. We were so pleased to see this improvement in her condition. Emi and I continued to make regular visits and to take care of her supermarket shopping needs every weekend, though without Mum accompanying us as she used to do before her hospitalisation.
But, sadly, this brief period of improvement was not to last. Mum fell ill again with what was suspected to be a return of the urine infection. A blood test was done which revealed that her kidney function was also not good, and so her medication was changed. This all happened as the Coronavirus lockdown was implemented, though Mum didn’t have any Coronavirus symptoms.
She began to eat and drink very little and became much weaker. A doctor couldn’t call to attend to her due to the pandemic lockdown restrictions but prescribed antibiotics remotely. My nephew Julian volunteered to stay with her at the house and tried to provide her with a reassuring presence but she deteriorated very quickly. It became evident that she was suffering a lot of discomfort and her pain management medication was stepped up.
We managed a couple of Facetime calls to her, via Emi’s iPad and Julian’s laptop. One of these calls was slightly encouraging as Mum seemed more aware of us on the screen and managed to share a few words and even a little smile. I telephoned a few times each day in an effort to talk with her but this became ever more fruitless as she became weaker and weaker.
On Wednesday the 8th of April we decided to break the Coronavirus travel restrictions and make the journey to Wakefield to see her in person. There was very little traffic on the motorway but the journey was filled with apprehension and worry about how Mum would be.
On arrival we found her in the bed which had been installed in her dining room, eyes closed and quietly groaning. I held her hand and spoke with her but I don’t know if she realised I was there. The district nurses arrived with protective clothing on to administer Morphine and, once this was done, Mum seemed to slip into a deep sleep and was apparently much more comfortable. I sat watching her breathe and stroked her brow for a while. We later travelled back home to York in silence, feeling very worried and sad.
Over the next two days, phone calls to Julian revealed that there was little change. Morphine was still being given to make Mum more comfortable.
The doctor had said that if Mum was taken to hospital she would have more chance of dying there than at home, plus she would be alone as no visitors were being allowed under the lockdown restrictions. In any case, Mum had made it very clear, at the start of this latest illness, that she did not want to go back to hospital. I think she’d had more than enough of that.
On Saturday, 11th April, around 1:30 pm, I received a call from Julian to say that Mum had stopped breathing. Although I knew that this moment had to come, I was devastated.
Mum was the last link to my childhood of the early 1950s. My father passed away in 1976, my brother in 2006, my grandmother, aunts and uncles a long time ago and my two cousins died in more recent years.
Now there is nobody left from my late 1940s, 1950s and 1960s family, except for myself. I can no longer pick up the telephone and ask Mum to confirm or correct a memory I might have of various incidents that happened in distant times when I was just a boy. But that's life, (and death,) though far from easy to accept.
During the latter years of her life, Mum had even more of a presence in our lives than before. She leaves a huge void that no one else will ever fill. For just over 71 years she has fretted over me, cherished me, been my champion. Always non-judgemental, kind, compassionate and selfless. A truly wonderful person who I deeply loved and will miss profoundly.
I'm very grateful to my nephew Julian and his wife Lyndsey for all the help, love and care they've given Mum these last months, they have been a source of strength and comfort to both Mum and myself. I know that my brother Ian would have been so proud of Julian.
Mum when she was a young girl in the 1930s.
Mum at 'Whelk Coppers' a house we rented for a holiday at Sheringham in the 1950s.
Mum in the 1940s.
Mum, Bill and Mac, late '80s, early '90s?
Mum with Julia, Bill and Emi, sitting on Ian Nelson's memorial bench.
Mum and Emi on the Hepworth Gallery bridge, Wakefield.
Mum applauding at Bill's 'Plectronica' concert, 2018. (Photo cropped and enlarged from a much larger photograph of the audience, taken by Martin Bostock.)